|Brian P. Stoffregen Exegetical Notes at|
November 4 can be celebrated as All Saints Sunday. It has its own assigned gospel. However, I think that this text could easily be used to illustrate themes that lead to sainthood. It is totally and completely an action of God. Zacchaeus is an illustration of a man who is grasped (or saved) by grace that comes through Jesus.
This text picks up themes from the previous chapter: the tax collector (18:9-14); the rich man (18:18-27); and a blind man outside of Jericho who couldn't see Jesus even if he had climbed up a tree. In addition, there was opposition to the blind man "seeing" Jesus (18:35-43) as there were people opposed to Jesus seeing Zacchaeus. It might be a stretch to equate "short" Zacchaeus with the infants of 18:15-17, who were also short and had some difficulties coming to Jesus, but on the other hand, climbing a tree might be considered childish behavior.
Connections and contrasts could be made between our text and any of these previous ones. Some will be made in the notes below. However, to begin with, note some of the connections/contrasts between the two Jericho stories: the blind man and Zacchaeus.
Another verbal connection is with the word anablepo.
Can we infer that "seeing again" means, in part, looking at someone like Zacchaeus in a new way? Perhaps "looking up" at a small person?
The name "Zacchaeus" from the Hebrew ZKY means "the righteous or pure one". I would guess that 1st century Jews would have called a tax collector, one who collaborated with the unclean enemy, something besides "the righteous or pure one" -- even if that were his name!
A way of approaching this text is to see it as a model of proper "righteousness" -- it comes as a gift from God -- mediated through the presence of Jesus. It was the theme of righteousness that led Luther to question some practices in the Roman Catholic Church. It is the "righteous" who are considered to be "saints". It is something God does for us, not something we do.
There may be some connections between Zacchaeus' "small stature" (helikia mikros) and some other sayings in Luke.
In 12:25 Jesus says, "Can any of you by worrying add a cubit to your stature?"
Is Zacchaeus' "stature" found by his height or by trying to become "taller" by climbing a tree or by his acceptance by Jesus?
Jesus says some positive things about the mikroi = "small ones".
In 9:48: "Whoever welcomes this child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me; for the least among all of you is the greatest."
In 12:32: "Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom."
In 17:2: "It would be better for you if a millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea than for you to cause one of these little ones to stumble."
Being "little" may not be such a bad thing in Jesus' kingdom.
The "seeker" Zacchaeus, becomes the "sought". While he is trying to see Jesus, apparently Jesus had already seen him. The same word (zeteo) is used of Zacchaeus "seeking" or "trying" to see Jesus (v. 3) and of Jesus "seeking" to save the lost (v. 10). While he is trying to discover who Jesus is, Jesus already knows more about him than he knows himself.
Who are the people seeking Jesus today? Who are the people Jesus is seeking today? What are our churches doing about it? Who or what are we seeking? Are we seeking to save people or to make our budget or to not offend too many people? How passive should we be while Jesus is seeking us?
How should we understand "seeker services" in the context of this story?
semeron = "today" is an important word in Luke -- it is a recurring theme from start to finish of this book. Some of the significant verses:
Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you (2:11)
Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing. (4:21)
I must stay at your house today. (19:5)
Today salvation has come to this house (19:9)
I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise. (23:43)
"Today" is the moment of salvation. That moment is created by Jesus' presence and his word.
There are some significant contrasts between rich Zacchaeus and the rich man of 18:18-27. The rich man is sad or grieving as he leaves Jesus (18:23; cf. Mark 10:22). Zacchaeus welcomes him with joy (v. 6). The rich man is told to sell what he has and give to the poor, which he is unable to do. Zacchaeus, without being asked, gives half his property to the poor and returns any ill-gotten gain fourfold (v. 8). At the end of the rich man story, Jesus talks about the great difficulty the rich have in entering the kingdom of God. He is asked, "Then who can be saved?' He replies, "What is impossible for mortals is possible for God" (18:25-26). Zacchaeus is an example of the impossible happening -- a rich man is saved. Not only the rich man, but his whole household! In addition, his "salvation," also benefited the poor and other people associated with him. I wonder, "Can we really talk about a personal salvation that doesn't also affect other people?"
How do we preach to the wealthy? to the successful? Does one have to feel sinful before the Gospel can make them whole? In contrast to the tax collector's prayer last week: "God, be merciful to me -- a sinner;" The only sin that Zacchaeus mentions is perhaps "extortion" or "defrauding" in v. 8. (Soldiers are also accused of such "extortion" tactics in Lk 3:14 -- the only other instance of this word.) This word (sykophanteo) implies taking money from others by false charges. Thus it involves the sins of lying (or bearing false witness) and greed.
Green (The Gospel of Luke) notes that the verbs in Zacchaeus's speech are present tense: "I give ... I pay back" and interprets them as "present progressives: "My customary practice is to give half of what I have to the poor, etc." Then he states:
Luke's narrative mentions nothing of Zacchaeus's need for repentance, act of repentance, or faith; nor of Jesus' summons to repentance; nor does he in any other way structure this episode as a "story of conversion." According to this reading, Zacchaeus does not resolve to undertake new practices but presents for Jesus evaluation his current behaviors regarding money. He even joins the narrator in referring to Jesus as "Lord." Jesus' reference to "salvation" (v. 9), then, signifies Zacchaeus's vindication and restoration to the community of God's people; he is not an outsider, after all, but has evidenced through his economic practices his kinship with Abraham (cf. 3:7-14). Zacchaeus thus joins the growing roll of persons whose "repentance" lies outside the narrative, who appear on the margins of the people of God, and yet who possess insight into and a commitment to the values of Jesus' mission that are exemplary. [p. 672]
However, if it had been Zacchaeus's habit to give and pay back, why is there so much grumbling about Jesus going to the house of a sinner?
Three times in Luke people grumble about Jesus -- always about the same thing -- his gracefulness towards sinners! Although there always seems to be grumbling in congregations, how often is it about being too graceful? Verse 7 in our text [diagogguzo] is one of those grumbling verses. The others are:
The Pharisees and their scribes were complaining [gogguzo] to his disciples, saying, "Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?" Jesus answered, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners to repentance." (Lk 5:30-31)
Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling [diagogguzo] and saying, "This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them." (Lk 15:1-2)
Is it possible to be too gracious? Should Jesus have told Zacchaeus to straighten up his act before he invited himself to his house? Couldn't Jesus' actions have been interpreted as condoning the tax collector's sinfulness? While I have received numerous complaints, I can never recall somebody grumbling about me because I ate with the wrong people. Is that good? Is it bad?
Is there anyone who should not be invited to our communion table? young children? non-Lutherans? Mormons? Jehovah Witnesses? the unbaptized? unwed mothers? drug addicts? IRS agents?
How do Jesus' actions relate to Bonhoeffer's "cheap grace"? Maybe what it cost Jesus was his reputation with the people of the city.
I am intrigued by Jesus' words in v. 9. Literally:
"Today salvation has happened to/in this house(hold),
because also this one is a son of Abraham."
What is the "salvation" that has happened? "Salvation" (soteria) is a rare word in Luke. All the other occurrences are in the Benedictus 1:69, 71 & 77, which are in references to John the Baptist's ministry. The related word also translated "salvation" (soterion) occurs in the Nunc Dimittis (2:30) and in a quote from Isaiah (3:6). So outside of two songs and an OT quote, the noun "salvation" only occurs this text. (Neither of these words occur in Mt or Mk and only once in John!) I will talk about the related verb "to heal/save" (sozo) in connection with v. 10 below.
What happened to or in this house(hold)? Although this "salvation" declaration comes after Zacchaeus' promises to give away money; I believe that the "salvation" event was Jesus himself coming to the house (see v. 5). The salvation wasn't just for Zacchaeus, but for everyone else in the house(hold) -- wife, children, slaves, guests?, etc. They had been in the presence of Jesus and that is salvation. In the same way, when Simeon sings, "My eyes have seen your salvation," he was looking at the infant Jesus (2:30).
What about Abraham? The verse makes it sound like Zacchaeus is saved because he is a son of Abraham -- and that it had nothing to do with Jesus. However, we look at another Lucan verse about children of Abraham. In 3:8 John the Baptist declares: "Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our ancestor'; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham." Being a child of Abraham is not about a biological connection, but bearing fruit worthy of repentance. As Paul stresses in Romans 4 -- the children of Abraham are those who live like Abraham -- in a faith relationship with God. Zacchaeus has just promised to bear the proper fruit.
Jesus' final phrase about seeking to save the lost is unique to Luke, although there is a similar phrase coming from Mark:
"I did not come to call righteous but sinners" (Mk 2:17b // Mt 9:13b)
"I have not come to call righteous but sinners to repentance" (Lk 5:32)
Luke has an emphasis on "the lost" in ch. 15, where the same form of the word is used in vv. 4 & 6. The same word, but different forms are used in vv. 4, 8, 9, 17, 24, & 32). Why was Zacchaeus counted among the lost whom Jesus seeks to save? Who are the lost? What makes them lost?
One answer might be: Those who have strayed from the ways of God. Certainly Zacchaeus' occupation would have caused him to disobey a few of the Ten Commandments. (Although we aren't told that he gave up his tax collecting business -- but if he didn't, it seems that he changed his ways about collecting the duty.) People are lost because of their own disobedience.
Another answer might be: Those whom society has shunned. People we may "look down on" -- and not just because they are "short in stature". It can be that the "lost" sheep is out of the fold because the fold won't let it in. People are lost (or stay lost) often because the church or society may keep them as "outsiders". It was certainly the "grumblers'" wish that Zacchaeus remain lost. Another possible example of this might be those people Zacchaeus had cheated. Could they be considered "lost" in the corrupt system with no apparent way out? They had been cheated, and had no way to receive justice. (Perhaps this could be a connection with the widow and her persistence in seeking justice in 18:1-8.)
What does "to save" mean in this context? The verb "to heal/save" (sozo) occurs 17 times in Lk (Mt 15 times; Mk 14 times; Jo 19 times). The basic meaning of this word is "to rescue from physical danger" or "to heal". It is used this way in 10 of the 17 occurrences.
The non-healing uses: One is in the story about the rich man. He apparently is not saved, because he couldn't part with his money. Jesus is asked, "Who then can be saved?" (18:26). Perhaps he is an illustration of Jesus' teaching: "For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it" (9:42. The question about the rich is similar to another question posed only in Luke: "Will only a few be saved?" Jesus doesn't answer directly, but says "Strive to go through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able" (13:23-24). He then tells a story about a closed door!
The two other non-healing uses are quite interesting because Luke added them to synoptic stories. The first is about the woman who anoints Jesus with ointment. In Luke she is a "woman of the city" and Jesus forgives her. He dismisses her with, "Your faith has saved you. Go in peace." (7:50) Salvation is having sins forgiven. I think that this certainly is part of the salvation Zacchaeus experienced.
In the familiar parable and explanation of the four soils, Luke gives this meaning to the seeds on the path: they are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved (8:12). Salvation comes from keeping and believing the Word -- and then bearing fruit. Zacchaeus also experienced this part of salvation. The presence of Jesus (the Word) produced good fruit in this man.
Sozo also carries the meaning, "to make whole." Some translators try to combine both the physical and moral implications by translating it with phrases like "to give new life to" or "to cause to have a new heart." I believe that part of Zacchaeus' salvation was a heart that was changed from greed to giving. Not only did his giving make his own life whole, but it also improved society -- resources for the poor and restitution for the cheated. Salvation is more than an individual event -- society also needs to be given new life and made whole.
Related to this, as I mentioned above, the basic meaning of sozo is "to rescue from physical danger" or "to heal". We might ask, "From what dangers was Zacchaeus rescued?" "From what was he healed?" An answer could be "greed". How do we rescue people from greed? Their desires for getting more and more have to be converted -- literally "turned around" to giving more and more.
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